Cannibalism: This is what it's like to eat a human

Cannibalism is a practice that has existed since the dawn of time, but fortunately remains illegal.

Although the 'Cannibal of the Pyrenees' has been in the news lately, the practice of anthropophagy remains one of the most sordid acts someone can commit. What could be worse than eating another human being? In criminal terms, this offence doesn't carry the maximum prison sentence available. But from a purely culinary and health-focused point of view, how would your body react if it digested human meat?

A distant ritual

This phenomenon has been a thing among humans for hundreds of thousands of years. Traces of this tradition can be unearthed all the way back to the first known humans in the Palaeolithic period. Harshly condemned by the Catholic religion, cases of human cannibalism are much less common in the medieval period. In more contemporary times though, major cases have been reported, such as in Leningrad during the great Soviet famine period.

But it was cinema that made this practice better known, as with the highly controversial film Cannibal Holocaust, a 'mythical' work of horror cinema, which even saw its director arrested by the police for 'obscenity offences'. Another, more mainstream work, will make anthropophagy into a household fright: Hannibal Lecter, played by Gaspard Ulliel in the origin story and then by the mythical Anthony Hopkins.

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Any health risks beyond the psychological?

But from a scientific standpoint, does eating human meat have positive or negative consequences on the human body? Well, we at least know that the caloric intake is lower than that of a wild boar or a bird.

As for the question of taste, it is impossible to conduct in-depth studies without befouling scientific ethics, but some cannibals who have been convicted of these acts were willing to testify about how they felt during their crimes. Armin Meiwes, a German computer scientist who was convicted of murder and cannibalism in 2001, said that the taste of humans was like 'pork, only more bitter'. Hence the popular nickname of 'long pork' for human meat. Such a practice is not without additional health risks, though.

In New Guinea in the 1950s, locals ate human brains during rituals and developed kuru disease (visual disturbances, dementia, epilepsy, loss of balance and premature death). And of course, as with animal cannibalism, eating meat from your own kind carries the severe risk of prion disease.

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